Fri Sep 17 3:48pm ET
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Jeff Ulbrich walked into his office on his first day as the New York Jets' defensive coordinator and found a handmade sign on display waiting for him.
It simply read in bold letters written in black marker: ''ELIMINATE EXPLOSIVES!!''
The crude artwork was created by Robert Saleh seven years ago when he was the linebackers coach at Jacksonville under Gus Bradley.
''We were talking about certain concepts and we made a decision like, `All right, let's make the decision that's going to eliminate the explosive (plays),''' Saleh recalled Friday. ''It was just one of those deals as a coach, you're frustrated like, `Why are we here until 1 in the morning?' We can eliminate so much discussion if we just focus on eliminating the explosives.
''So, I made this little cheesy old sign that I've had with me since 2014 and passed it on to (Ulbrich).''
Saleh drew it up himself, writing out the phrase that serves as a reminder of the Jets' weekly mission on defense.
''It's got little bombs on it and everything,'' a grinning Saleh said. ''It's a cool little sign. It's in his office.''
For Saleh and Ulbrich, an explosive play means any pass over 16 yards and any run over 12.
''That's definitely where we all land,'' Ulbrich said.
In New York's 19-14 loss at Carolina last Sunday, the Jets allowed five such passes, including Sam Darnold's 57-yard TD toss to Robby Anderson, and three such runs.
Focusing on not giving up big plays can sometimes lead to opponents dinking and dunking downfield to gain yardage in small chunks rather than one big one.
''We can play tighter to backs, we can eliminate some of the leaky yardage,'' Ulbrich said. ''We'll do a better job at that. But at the same time, our commitment is to absolutely eliminate explosive plays.''
Defenses need to find a balance when they take that approach, but Saleh insists it's a key to keeping opponents out of the end zone and off the scoreboard.
''When offenses can generate an explosive play in a drive, their percentages of scoring are astronomical,'' Saleh said. ''It's almost guaranteed that they're going to get three points. Two explosives in a drive, you might as well just put seven on the board and kick the ball off.
''So, the objective is to make them go earn it.''
That approach will be in play again Sunday, when the Jets take on rookie quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots in the home opener at MetLife Stadium.
In New England's 17-16 loss to Miami last Sunday, the Patriots had five ''explosive plays'' by the Jets' measurements: four passes of over 16 yards and one run over 12. Still, Jones had a solid debut while going 29 of 39 for 281 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut while facing pressure constantly.
''He's way better than I wanted him to be,'' a smiling Ulbrich said of the former Alabama star. ''You anticipate seeing a young, inexperienced quarterback making young, inexperienced quarterback-type of decisions. Didn't see a whole lot of that. Part of that was, I think he's got some real skill, poise. Obviously comes from a school where they get NFL-caliber coaching. So he's probably as NFL ready as you can find from a quarterback position.''
Jones' longest pass went 26 yards to James White in the third quarter. He also had a 25-yard throw to Nelson Agholor, and his only other long completion went to Agholor for 21 yards.
There were plenty of short tosses, though, that turned into decent gains. And that's where the balance for the Jets' defense will come into play.
''You don't want to be so conscientious of taking away their deep ball that they do just dink and dunk for 5, 10 yards a pop,'' Saleh said of the Jets' general approach to facing offenses. ''We do have this thing called the `kill zone,' and it's inside 5 yards and that's where we're trying to keep the ball.
''So, the challenge is, can you eliminate explosives while keeping the ball inside 4 yards or less?''
Being able to quickly recognize what the opponent is doing before the ball is snapped helps the Jets play more aggressively while sticking to the defensive scheme - and, of course, abiding by that white sign with the three little ticking bomb illustrations.
''That comes with so many reps and time, especially when you play a zone defense like we do,'' Saleh said. ''Man coverage, you're body on a body - it's easy stuff. But when you play a zone that we do, your job as a player is to eliminate your explosive, so you can be aggressive on things in front. Again, that takes lots of reps.''
NOTES: Saleh confirmed LT Mekhi Becton will have surgery on his injured right knee and will still be out a minimum of four to eight weeks. ''There's still a lot of things that need to be found,'' Saleh said. ''There's still decisions to be made so we're hopeful, but at the same time, we're just waiting for him to go through his process.'' ... WRs Jamison Crowder (groin) and Keelan Cole (knee) are trending toward playing, but Saleh said they'll be game-time decisions.
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New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (calf), who missed practice on Thursday, will return to practice on Friday, according to head coach Joe Judge. Engram apparently suffered a setback on Thursday, but it doesn't appear to be too serious, and he should have a decent chance at playing on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. The 27-year-old has only 14 catches on 21 targets for 127 yards and no touchdowns through four games this year, but he could be one of the top targets against Carolina with wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) likely out and with Sterling Shepard (hamstring) suffering a setback on Thursday. With bye weeks hitting fantasy managers hard in Week 8, Engram has low-end TE1 appeal as a streamer if he's active.
New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson has seen an increased role in the offense over the last two weeks. The loss of James White (hip) has opened up more chances for Stevenson. Sadly, he hasn't seen much success on the ground with only 23 yards in each of the last two games. Luckily for Stevenson, he'll get a favorable matchup against the New York Jets in Week 7. A defense that has struggled to stop any back all season long. There isn't much upside here because Damien Harris is healthy and should get a bulk of the carries. Stevenson should be viewed as a deep league desperation option here.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has only produced two multi-touchdown games through the first six games of the season. The rookie quarterback has not exceeded 275 passing yards in a single game since the season opener. Despite that, Jones will get an excellent matchup against the New York Jets in Week 7. A defense that ranks 23rd in pass DVOA so far in 2021. There isn't a ton of fantasy value here, but Jones could have some streaming appeal for QB needy fantasy managers in Week 7.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (illness) said on his Twitter account that his body continues to reject any food he eats as he tries to get past a bout of food poisoning that had him questionable to play last Monday night in Week 6. Brown didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and could draw another questionable tag in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. It's been a rough week for the 24-year-old, and he looked to be under the weather in the first half of Monday's game before exploding for seven catches on nine targets for 91 yards in the second half. We ultimately expect him to play this Sunday in an excellent matchup against the Chiefs. As long as Brown is active, he needs to remain in all fantasy lineups.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is coming off his best rushing performance of the season. Last week, Harris rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries and found the end zone for the second straight week. The hope is that he'll be able to carry that momentum into the Week 7 matchup with the New York Jets. A defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this season. Fantasy managers should feel comfortable with Harris as a RB2 for this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) didn't appear to be practicing Friday during the portion open to the media. Brown, who has been dealing with a sprained ankle, wasn't able to practice Wednesday and Thursday- and appears to be trending towards another absence to close out the week. Brown should be considered doubtful for Sunday's game against the Bears at this point. If officially ruled out, fellow wideouts Chris Godwin and Mike Evans could see more targets headed their way.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hamstring) was downgraded from a full to limited participant Thursday, and he has reportedly endured a setback with his hamstring issue. Giants beat writer Ralph Vacchiano noted that head coach Joe Judge didn't seem so sure about Shepard's practice status for Friday's session after expressing optimism about fellow pass-catchers Evan Engram (calf) and Darius Slayton (hamstring). Of course, nothing is official until the Giants release their practice report later, but it sure sounds like Shepard could find himself on the wrong side of questionable heading into the game against the Panthers. With Saquon Barkley (ankle), Kenny Golladay (knee), and Kadarius Toney (ankle) all heading towards absences, the Giants' entire offense could be an easy fade for fantasy purposes. However, Engram and Slayton could both see increased volume in Week 7.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (illness) appeared to be practicing during the portion available to media viewing at Friday's session. Goedert didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but was activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list, suggesting that he would be on track for Sunday if he could return to practice in some capacity. That appears to be the case regardless of the designation heading into a favorable matchup against a Raiders defense that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends. Goedert could be headed for elite-level usage sans Zach Ertz and look like a strong play in Week 7.
Seattle Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas has been playing sparingly through his first season and a half, but he could see some major snaps in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Chris Carson (neck) and Alex Collins (groin) are both dealing with injuries. Carson was placed on Injured Reserve, and Collins failed to practice on Thursday. Dallas played 34 percent of the snaps in the team's Week 6 game, and his nine total touches, including five receptions, were second only to Collins. The matchup against the Saints isn't the best, as they've allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this year, but he could still see solid value in PPR formats due to his work in the receiving game if Collins is unable to play.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett has been a volatile asset in fantasy with an extremely high ceiling thanks to his connection with quarterback Russell Wilson, but he doesn't have that same outlook in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. With Geno Smith under center in Week 6, Lockett caught two of his seven targets for 21 yards, and he just wasn't getting those deep shots that he would often get with Russ. The offense is going to be funnelled to teammate D.K. Metcalf and the running backs, which will leave Lockett's fantasy managers hoping that he breaks one big play down the field. He has flex value with the rest of the stars that are on bye weeks or the injured list, but don't count on a big week out of him.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf was the team's top target last week, and he figures to maintain that spot in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Metcalf caught six of his seven targets a week ago, and he was turned into somewhat of a possession receiver rather than a downfield threat with Geno Smith at quarterback. With his size and athleticism, he can fill that role, and he'll have a size advantage over all of the Saints defensive backs. With the Seattle running backs dealing with injuries, we could see a heavier emphasis on passing the ball, which would lead to more opportunities for Metcalf. He's not quite in the WR1 category this week, but he's still a solid WR2 or flex option for your fantasy lineups.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers was a top-10 kicker a season ago, but he's trending in the wrong direction heading into Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Myers is the No. 22 kicker in fantasy heading into Week 7, and his offense is struggling to maintain their productivity due to injuries. With a beaten up running game, quarterback Geno Smith will be forced to throw the ball more, and that just doesn't seem to be the way the Seahawks want to win games. The Saints have yet to allow an opponent to score 30 or more points this year, but this Seattle unit without Russell Wilson(finger) is unlikely to change that. There are several fantasy viable kickers on byes this week, but Myers doesn't seem like a viable fill-in option.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was serviceable against a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense last week, and his matchup isn't much easier in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Through five games, the Saints have allowed just five passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks, and they've given up the 11th-fewest passing yards. In his first start in four years, Smith threw for only 209 yards in a losing effort, and he was rarely pushing the ball down the field. His offensive line should have a decent chance of keeping him upright, as the Saints are second-to-last in sacks with eight, but he needs to do a better job of keeping the offense on schedule. This is not one of the weeks to be starting Smith unless you have no other options.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) wasn't practicing during the portion of Friday's session open to the media. Gronkowski, who hasn't practiced yet this week, seems trending towards another absence this Sunday against Chicago. With O.J. Howard (ankle) back on the practice field- it's looking like he and Cameron Brate will handle the tight end duties once again. Howard seems to be building some chemistry with Tom Brady, as he is coming off a game where he hauled in six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Head coach Brian Flores spoke to reporters Friday morning, expressing confidence in Tua Tagovailoa as his starting signal-caller amid trade rumors that have swirled this week. Tagovailoa was involved in some reports suggesting a three-team deal involving the Texans and star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been on the trade block. Flores seemed to dismiss those reports, stating that the team is pleased with their current quarterback situation. Tagovailoa had his best game of the year last week, completing 33 of 47 passes for 329 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, adding 22 yards on the ground. The vote of confidence from the organization could serve him well heading into a favorable matchup against a poor Falcons defense.
Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas and tight end Tommy Tremble will take on the Giants in Week 7. Both players split the playing time relatively evenly last week, as Thomas played 54 percent of the snaps compared to Tremble's 51 percent. The Giants have allowed four touchdowns to the position, so one of these two could find the end zone in Week 7. Given that the Panthers have shown some creativity with Tremble at the goal-line, he looks like the slightly better bet of the two to produce a decent line.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (foot) underwent foot surgery on Friday and could miss the rest of the season. The 24-year-old exited Monday's win over the Texans early with a foot injury. He was placed on injured reserve earlier this week. Campbell caught 10-of-17 targets for 162 yards and the one touchdown in five games this year. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Campbell underwent surgery on Friday, potentially ending his season. While Campbell is sidelined, T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, and Michael Pittman should see an uptick in targets.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones continues to produce for fantasy managers. He rushed 13 times for 76 yards and caught all four targets for 34 yards and a touchdown in the Packers' 24-14 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 6. The 26-year-old has found the end zone six times over his last six games this season. Jones has made the most out of his receptions out of the backfield, averaging 8.9 YAC per reception, seventh among all running backs. Washington is ranked 28th in rush DVOA and allows 20 fantasy points per game to opposing team's running backs. Jones should be busy on Sunday and is set up to have a massive performance in a plus matchup against Washington in Week 7.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson has struggled this season heading into a favorable matchup against the Giants. Anderson has caught just 15 of 40 targets for 190 yards and two touchdowns, posting a career-worst 37.5 percent catch rate. However, 29 of those 40 targets have come in the past three weeks, as the speedy wideout has seen his involvement in the offense skyrocket with Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) sidelined. Anderson should remain heavily involved with fellow receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. (head) trending in the wrong direction for Sunday's game. With a potentially elite target share incoming and a matchup against a Giants defense that has allowed the eighth-most touchdowns to wideouts on tap- Anderson could be poised for his best game of the year.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could have another massive fantasy day in Week 7 against the Washington Football Team. Washington has been unable to stop the pass and has given up the most yards through the air. The future Hall of Famer has been terrific in 2021, throwing for 1,436 yards and a 12:3 TD: INT ratio along with 27 rushing yards and two scores over six games in 2021. Rodgers is a surefire QB1 and is set to finish as a top-5 fantasy QB in a plus matchup against Washington.